Sumerian and Near Eastern Mythology

Mount Mashu

[16] To the Sumerians, Mashu was a sacred mountain. Its name means "twin" in Akkadian, and thus was it portrayed on Babylonian cylinder seals --a twin-peaked mountain, described by poets as both the seat of the gods, and the underworld (60). References or allusions to Mt.Mashu are found in three episodes of the Gilgamesh cycle which date between the third and second millennia B.C.

Mashu was located in a forest in the "land of the Living", where the names of the famous are written(61). It is alluded to in the episode "Gilgamesh and Humbaba". In this story, Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu, travel to the Cedar (or Pine) Forest which is ruled over by a demonic monster named Humbaba. While their motives for going to the Forest included gaining renown, it is also clear that they wanted the timber it contained. Humbaba, who had been appointed by the god Enlil to guard the Forest, is depicted as a one-eyed giant with the powers of a storm and breath of fire, perhaps the personification of a volcano (62). It is only with the help of another god, and a magically forged weapon that Gilgamesh triumphs over Humbaba. But before his battle, Gilgamesh and Enkidu gaze in awe at the mountain called "the mountain of cedars, the dwelling-place of the gods and the throne of Ishtar"(63).

They climb onto the mountain, sacrifice cereals to it, and, in response, the mountain sends them puzzling dreams about their futures (64). When they begin to fell trees, Humbaba senses their presence and, enraged, fixes his eye of death on the pair. [17] Although Gilgamesh finally defeats the monster, Enkidu eventually weakens and dies from Humbaba's gaze and curse (65). In addition to its reputation as the "land of the Living", this forest is also a way to the underworld or the other world. For right after killing Humbaba, Gilgamesh continues in the forest and "uncovered the sacred dwelling of the Anunaki"--old gods who, like the Greek Titans, had been banished to the underworld (66). Furthermore, Gilgamesh seems to go into a death-like trance here (67); and in the same general region, the goddess Ishtar, whom Gilgamesh spurned, threatened to break in the doors of hell and bring up the dead to eat with the living (68).

Mashu is mentioned directly in the episode "Gilgamesh and the Search for Everlasting Life". This story unfolds after the death of Gilgamesh's friend, Enkidu, a wrenching experience which makes Gilgamesh face his own mortality and go searching for eternal life. It is en route to Utnapishtim, the one mortal to achieve immortality, that Gilgamesh comes to Mashu "the great mountain, which guards the rising and setting sun. Its twin peaks are as high as the wall of heaven and its roots reach down to the underworld. At its gate the Scorpions stand guard, half man and half dragon; their glory is terrifying; their stare strikes death into men, their shining halo sweeps the mountains that guard the rising sun"(69). Gilgamesh is able to convince the Scorpion-people to open the gate and let him enter the long tunnel through the mountains. Eventually Gilgamesh emerges from the tunnel into a fantastic Garden of the gods, whose trees bear glittering jewels instead of fruit (70).

In the view of several scholars, Mashu is also the mountain mentioned in the story that Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh. [18] Utnapishtim, sometimes called the "Sumerian Noah", told Gilgamesh how the gods had become angered with humanity and decided on the Flood as one means to exterminate it. A sympathetic god warned Utnapishtim and told him to build a boat and board it with his family, relatives, craftsmen, and the seed of all living creatures (71). After six days of tempest and flood, Utnapishtim's boat grounded on a mountain. He released a dove and a swallow, both of which returned to him. Then he released a raven which did not return; Utnapishtim and his family came down from the mountain. When the disgruntled gods are finally reconciled with the re-emergence of humanity, Utnapishtim and his wife are taken by the god Enlil to live in the blessed place where Gilgamesh found him "in the distance, at the mouth of the rivers"(72).

In his classic study, Armenia in the Bible, father Vahan Inglizian compared the above myths with the Biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2) and the Flood (Gen.7-8), both of which he sited in eastern Asia Minor (73). Accepting Lehmann-Haupt's equation of the tunnel through Mashu with the naturally occuring subterannean Tigris tunnel near Bylkalein, Inglizian suggested that Mashu should be sought in the Armenian Taurus mountain range, south of Lake Van (74). It is in this same southern area, rather than at Mt. Ararat, that many scholars, including Inglizian, place the mountain of Noah (Gen. 8.4)(75). Inglizian suggested that the phrase "at the mouth of the rivers" describing the blessed land where Utnapishtim lived, should be understood to mean "at the sources of the [Tigris and Euphrates] rivers"(76). This heavenly Dilmun of Mesopotamian mythology was later identified with Bahrain on the Persian Gulf (77).


[19] Aratta was a city, city-state, or country with which Sumerians had close trade and religious ties in the third millennium B.C. Its location is not known. Of four general sites suggested for Aratta, two are located in eastern Asia Minor: the Van-Urmia area and the Ayrarat district of historical Armenia. The Anshan-Hamadan area of western Iran was the choice of S. Cohen who translated one of four sources to mention Aratta, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. However, since the publication of that work (1973), several of the criteria he used for locating Aratta have been challenged (78).

Aratta, apparently, was under the special protection of the Sun god's daughter, Inanna, the goddess of love and war. In "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta", the goddess and/or her statue were taken from Aratta to the Sumerian city of Uruk by the ruler of Uruk, Enmerkar. Now believing himself to have the goddess' protection, the Sumerian king challenged the lord of Aratta. Enmerkar ordered him to send to Sumer precious metals, precious stones, building materials and the craftsmen to transform them into shrines (79). The lord of Aratta is willing to provide the materials if Enmerkar will send him large amounts of barley. When the barley arrives in Aratta, its lord unexpectedly refuses to fulfill his part of the agreement. After ten years, Enmerkar again sends his herald to Aratta. This time, the lord of Aratta challenges Enmerkar to select one of his champions to fight in single combat with one of Aratta's champions. Enmerkar accepts. Because his response was lengthy and his herald was "heavy of mouth", Enmerkar inscribed his message on [20] clay tablets and sent them to Aratta with his herald. The poet implies that this was the beginning of writing (80). However, at this point the famine, which apparently had been plaguing Aratta, lifts and Aratta's ruler takes courage, believing Inanna had not really abandoned him. Although the ending is fragmentary, Aratta eventually seems to provide the materials and craftsmen.

In a second Sumerian myth, "Enmerkar and Ensuhkeshdana", the lord of Aratta demands the submission of Enmerkar, king of Uruk, and the return of the goddess Inanna to her home in Aratta. Enmerkar refuses and demands Aratta's submission. The lord of Aratta consults with his advisors who urge him to capitulate, which he angrily refuses to do. Then his priest comes forward and boasts that he will subdue Uruk and other territories through magic. The lord of Aratta delightedly rewards the priest and sends him to Uruk. But the priest is assassinated there; and the lord of Aratta submits to Uruk (81).

Aratta is mentioned again in a third, briefer story known as "Lugulbanda and Enmerkar". In this myth, Enmerkar of Uruk is under military attack from the Martu people. Enmerkar desperately sends his messenger, Lugulbanda, to Aratta to the goddess Inanna, here called his sister. Inanna's response is unclear (82). However, it appears that Aratta again supplied Enmerkar with metals, precious stones, and craftsmen; and there is a suggestion that the materials were transported to Uruk by river (83). Finally, Aratta appears in a fourth myth, "Lugulbanda and Mount Hurum". Enmerkar and his army are traveling to Aratta to make it a vassal state. En route they stop at Mount Hurum where Lugulbanda becomes ill and "dies". His comrades place his body on Mount Hurum, [21] intending to retrieve it after their war in Aratta. However, Lugulbanda was not really dead. After praying to the sun, moon, and the star Venus, he emerges from his trance and wanders the highlands. Unfortunately, the ending of this story is lost (84).

The four myths outlined above portray Aratta as a wealthy and militarily powerful state with which Sumer had relations from very early times. It was located some distance from Sumer and protected by its forbidding mountains, but it was not so distant as to prevent trade relations. Aratta had building materials, precious stones, metals and craftsmen skilled in their transformation. Aratta also had primacy with regard to the religion of the mother goddess, Inanna, who resided in Aratta, was the patron of that state, and was taken or lured south to Sumerian cities. Uruk and Aratta also were in contest for military superiority--each demanding the submission of the other. The method of transporting the "stones of the mountain" from Aratta to Uruk and of transporting grain from Uruk to Aratta seems consistent with such trade historically between the Armenian highlands and areas to its south, namely, by boat from Aratta south, and by pack animal from Uruk north. If Aratta is indeed located in eastern Asia Minor, the general implication of the Aratta cycle of myths is that Aratta played a seminal role in the development of religion in Sumer, as well as in the construction of its cult structures; and that trade and diplomacy between the two states was of such importance that writing was developed specifically for them.


[22] The city of Kummiya appears in the mythology of the Hurrian-speaking populations dwelling around Lake Van. This city, which has not been positively identified, is described as the home of the Hurrian weather god, Tessub, and the city which Ullikummi, the stone monster, was created to destroy. R. T. O'Callaghan, in his study, Aram Naharaim, suggested that Kummiya should be sought "somewhere between the Tigris and Lake Van" (85). Igor Diakonoff placed it, generally, on the Upper Zab river (86).

The story of Ullikummi is one episode in a cycle of related "songs" about the god Kumarbi. Kumarbi's overarching aim was to overthrow the weather god, Tessub, who was, through a curious circumstance, his own son (87). Kumarbi tries to achieve his end by producing monsters capable of destroying Tessub. First, Kumarbi and his wife, Sertapsuruhi, bear the dragon (or serpent) Hedamu. But Tessub's sister Sauska/Ishtar seduces and neutralizes Hedamu (88). Then Kumarbi has sexual intercourse with a rock cliff. The result of that union was a genderless, deaf, blind, yet sentient pillar of volcanic rock named Ullikummi. To hide Ullikummi during its "minority", Kumarbi has it taken to the underworld. Ullikummi is perched on the shoulder of Ubelluri, an Atlas-like figure who is holding up the world and does not seem to notice the additional weight. Ullikummi begins to grow like Jack's Beanstalk. Soon it emerges from the underworld into a body of water. The Sun God on his rounds sees this baleful phenomenon and quickly reports it to Tessub (89).

Tessub, his brothers and sister Sauska/Ishtar go up onto Mt. Hazzi and view the ever-growing monster in panic (90). [23] Once again, Tessub's sister tries to seduce the monster, but this time she is literally romancing a stone, and is unable to stop Ullikummi. By now, Ullikummi has grown up into the land of the gods itself, and is blocking the doorway of Tessub's wife, Hebat. "It took its stand before the gate of the city of Kummiya (Tessub's city) like a shaft" (91). The crisis is finally ended by Ea, the god of wisdom. Ea visits the place of the ancient primeval gods, gets from their storehouse a copper cutting instrument "which was used to separate the earth and the sky", and,using it, cuts Ullikummi from Ubelluri's shoulders (92).


1 comment:

Diwiyana said...

The "song of Ullikummi" is so fragmentary at the end that we can only assume that, without his feet, the stone man loses his final battle with the storm god. But I've always wondered about that. Is it possible this was the Hurrian/Hittite equivalent of the Norse Ragnarok, Twilight of the Gods?